How good is your memory? Can you remember the way that the lights reflected off of the wet cobble stone streets? The excitement in your child’s face as they realize that other worlds exist? That questionable meal that forced you to spend the evening exploring the finer points of your hotel room’s bathroom? Well, for many of us, a vacation without our camera is not really a vacation. I’ve had quite a few questions about what to bring, when not to shoot, or how do I choose what to use while traveling…
I love traveling, although I’m currently traveling for the first time with our 1 year old, so check back with me in a couple weeks to see if the sentiment maintains itself. For me, getting to interact with the place that I’m in from behind my camera is what gets me up early in the morning and helps me look at the place I’m in more intensely. I tend to notice the differences more immediately as my senses are heightened and more vulnerable. Through this, I’m able to help tie these sensual memories to my visual documentation. I remember smells and sounds better when I’m looking for a shot and even years later, the story I’m able to recount from these little tidbits of visual recollection help me remember my trips.
I used to worry that I wouldn’t have the right lens, or perhaps might be caught without a flashgun when needed before I packed my gear for travel. This resulted in me dragging most all of my gear with me every time I’d go anywhere. I quickly realized that even when I had my full quiver of lenses available to me, I would gravitate to one or two lenses and the others would end up buried in my bag beneath metro maps, gloves, etc. But, what if I need to take a picture of a wide, expansive landscape and then immediately need to zoom into an animal a quarter mile away? Well, I guess I’ve come to peace with the fact that I will settle for one of those shots, and as long as I can get one of those shots to look as good as I possibly can, then I’m happy.
I’ve been asked about which lenses to take travelling, which, is a very valid question. A question to which there is no correct answer. I used to go into a more precise tirade of anticipation and preparedness, now I usually try to ask the asker to answer their own question. Everyone will have to pull from their own experience to give advice, and will be biased based on that experience. My advice is to use whatever you’re most comfortable with. If that is a 10x super zoom, or a single prime lens, so be it. Think “your style” vs trying to cover every possible scenario, and focus on making images that you will want to look at later, not just snapshots of every single detail. Travelling is a balance for me. A balance between documenting my experience, and the actual experience itself. I’ve had trips where the former got more attention than the later, and I regretted it down the road. Don’t forget to remember what the river smells like, or the wind felt like on your face. Stop and smell those roses.
Now, away from the hypothetical and on to the actual. I love forcing myself to compose and capture with a single prime lens for any given outing. I will bring a couple lenses with me, and try to leave all but one (or maybe two) behind for a day’s events. This does two things for me, one, I think more about my pictures and two, I don’t spend money on pain pills to soothe my aching back from carrying 30lbs of gear all day. I spend more time enjoying just being on vacation all while getting to think about my vacation intimately from a photographic standpoint. I fully admit that this may not be the same for anyone else, but hey, it’s my blog, and you’ve read this far, so I guess you’re at least kind of interested in my opinion.
If I were to give advice to someone asking me about bringing photography gear traveling, my key points would read something like this:
- First, research insurance. Most homeowner/renter’s policies will allow you to add on your gear for insurance outside of the home. If traveling internationally, make sure you specify you want coverage anywhere you go for damage and theft.
- Let your style dictate the gear. If you’re not sure, bring what you feel comfortable dragging along, and try to safely store what you don’t want to bring on a daily basis in a hotel safe, or some other secure place.
- You can only make pictures with what you have. Don’t think about the lenses in your bag, not currently on your camera, or worse, those you don’t have, and compose your shots accordingly. Too many lens changes may bring unwanted attention to you as well.
- Bring a good compact camera. No matter what kind of gear you have, or how minimally you plan to travel, I would suggest a good compact, pocketable camera for the times you can’t realistically use, or don’t want to be advertising your gear. Have this available for quick situations that present themselves.
- Keep your audience in mind. If you’re shooting entirely for yourself, great. Have at it. If you are going to be putting together a travel book/slideshow, etc, think about who will be viewing your shots. Does your mom really want to see hundreds of “artistic” shots of abstract details? Maybe, maybe not.
- Try to find someone to take shots of you. Don’t forget to get at least a couple snap shots with you in them.
- Research your destination(s). Places like flickr will give you tons of inspiration with a couple searches. Try to find local photographic forums and if necessary, use google translator or something to get a feel.
- Use common sense. Chances are, you’re going to stick out as is, let alone strapping hundreds, if not thousands of dollars/euros/pounds/yen/rupees, et al worth of gear around your neck. Know your surroundings and know when not to bring your camera out.
- Have some way to backup images. Be that a laptop, or inexpensive mobile backup drive. If you lose a card, or accidentally erase images, it’s pretty hard to get them back.
Getting to a place where the vacation isn’t solely about photography, and the photography in turn isn’t solely about the vacation is where I aim to end up. Normally, I end up with a mix of pictures that range from unmistakable to images that could have come from anywhere. Documentation should not be a bad word, but shouldn’t dominate your shooting style. I’d also prefer to have one picture that I want to print and hang from my wall at home, than 100 images that will be looked at a couple times and live on my computer. While there is plenty of snap shooting on my trips, I will try to dedicate time to capture as many well thought out images as I can for each excursion. Some days that is one or two, others more, while keeping in mind I’m not traveling alone and my wife might not be stoked having to ‘wait for me to get the shot’ for the 15th time on the way to the metro station. As long as I can flip though the images at the end of each day and have at least one that has me excited, I’m happy.
I am going to try and post from the road as we go this time around as it is raining and generally miserable outside, so I have some ‘free’ time as it were. Keep shooting, and I will do my best to do the same.